The debate over what qualifies as a Christmas movie has she will continue to exist for as long as there are movies being made about the holiday. The biggest and most argued about film is probably Die Hard, with both sides adamant that they’re right. I, for one, believe any movie set on Christmas, is automatically a Christmas movie but that’s not to say every character within said Christmas movie is a Christmas character per say. The movie can only be tangentially connected to the holiday and still be considered a Christmas movie but I think for a character to be considered a Christmas character, they have to have to be connected in some way to the holiday. Die Hard is a Christmas movie but John McClane is NOT a Christmas character. With that poorly defined criteria out of the way, let’s rank the greatest characters in Christmas movies.
This is The 20 Greatest Christmas Characters Of All Time.
10. Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) | A Christmas Story (1983)
Ralphie wants more than anything else, a Red Ryder Carbine-action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and something that tells time (a sundial) for Christmas and unlike the similarly themed Jingle All the Way, we see his obsession from his point of view. This isn’t a tale about a kid who’s refused something because it’s too expensive or about a father desperately trying to get his boy the gift he wants, it’s about that one gift we’ve all wanted that everyone knows will inevitably and immediately hurt us (mine was a bitchin’ pocket knife) and what happens when we finally get it. Ralphie goes through many adventures throughout the course of the film but his desire to get that toy gun is arguably the most relatable thing in any Christmas movie ever. Unless of course you’ve had to singlehandedly take on an entire office building of terrorists, in which case disregard.
09. Susan Walker (Natalie Wood/Mara Wilson) | Miracle on 34th Street (1947/1994)
Santa Claus is a very hard concept to sell. He’s a fat man that can somehow squeeze through chimneys who rides a flying sleigh pulled by magical reindeer and he lives in the North Pole surrounded by elves. It’s preposterous but to a child, it’s no more mysterious than rainbows or magnets. Children are more attuned to nature and magic and are willing to buy into seemingly outlandish concepts because they see the world differently. And since enough of them believe in the idea of Santa, that makes him real. If every child stopped believing in Santa for five years, he would no longer exist. We wouldn’t use his image to sell soda nor would we make any films about him. The reason why he’s endured is because there’s always a new generation that believes. So the question of whether or not Santa is real is irrelevant, the real question is ‘is this specific mall Santa the real deal?’ Both versions of Miracle on 34th Street attempt to answer that question and to spoil two very old movies, the answer to both is yes. Not because he proves himself magical or says or does something inexplicable but because a little girl believes. Susan Walker’s belief in him is so strong, that the court can’t help but agree and neither can us the viewer.
08. Cindy Lou Who (June Foray/Taylor Momsen Cameron Seely) | How the Grinch Stole Christmas/The Grinch (1966/2000/2018)
Cindy Lou Who gets more to do in the plot with each subsequent adaptation (in the novel, all she does is ask The Grinch why he’s stealing her Christmas tree), with her live action counter part being the most fleshed out. The ’66 one is adorable but barely does anything, the ’18 one is in it a bunch but is straight up bizarre (she wants to kidnap Santa to thank him and her plans get entangled with The Grinch’s) but the ’00 version was the first to make her feel like a co-lead. The film was smart enough to know that The Grinch is the main draw and uses him accordingly but it also knows you need a believable emotional anchor for the third act character change to work. Cindy Lou Who is innocence and purity personified. She’s so cute and wholesome and sweet, that the act of taking just one ornament off of her tree, would be enough to make one’s heart grow three sizes.
07. Frosty the Snowman (Jackie Vernon) | Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Based on a song that was made to cash in on the popularity of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Frosty the Snowman has transcended it’s cash grab roots to become a legit Christmas staple. Brought to life by Professor Hinkle’s magical top hat, Frosty spends his days hanging out with a little girl named Karen and a bunch of her classmates. While they do get into a mini adventure towards the end, the majority of their time together is spent singing and dancing and having a great time. He’s a conductor (complete with a broom as a baton) leading a orchestra of raucous fun and Christmas cheer. While the children are heartbroken that he melts at the end (as were real life audiences at the time), the special imparts a very important lesson: nothing lasts forever and sometimes you have to wait a very long time to see your friends again. He helps children deal with loss is a real way. It doesn’t pander, nor does it talk down the issue. It addresses it, the kids go boohoo and then they’re taught and forced to wait till the next winter to see him. It teaches children patience and the importance of a great top hat.
06. Jacob Marley and the Christmas Spirits (various) A Christmas Carol (1901- )
A greedy and selfish man, Marley was much like Scrooge when he was alive and because of this, he was damned to eternally wander the earth as a decrepit spirit, forever burdened by a mass of chains that represent his accumulated sins. On the 7th anniversary of his death, which falls on Christmas Eve, he visits Scrooge, warning him that he will suffer the same fate if he does not change his ways. Before he departs, he also informs him that he will be visited by three spirits later that night. They are the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and Grim Reaper-esque Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. These four apparitions might be the most famous and identifiable ghosts in all of cinema. Based on the numerous adaptations and unique looks of each spirit, I think it’s safe to say that they’re as iconic and synonymous with the holiday as reindeers and elves. And for the record, my favorite iterations are from a Muppet Christmas Carol and Scrooged.
05. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Billie Richards) | Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The moral of his story might be garbage (society only accepts the different once they’ve proven themselves useful) and his personality borderline insufferable but the actual plot of this film and its subsequent sequel (which I’m not including because it’s actually a New Year’s story and a crazy one at that) are terrifically entertaining. Most Christmas themed characters are little more than song generators with a moral at the end (Frosty does nothing but sing and Jack Frost dances around like a dandy fop or whatever the fuck he does) and while Rudolph is no different, the shit in between the songs is crazy fun. He runs into monsters, candy obsessed prospectors, a whole ass island of deformed toys and even a magical lion king who’s a million times cooler than Santa. And that’s in addition to him single handedly saving Christmas for a bunch of asshole elves and reindeers. He’s the hero the North Pole needs but not the one it deserves.
04. Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) | Elf (2003)
Much like how Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy owned the two decades before him, Will Ferrell was the undisputed comedy king of the 2000s. It seemed like everything he touched turned to gold but out of all of those hits, the film that will most definitely stand the test of time is Elf. The smartest play a comedian can do, is make a children’s film because even if it’s mediocre, if it’s popular, it’ll be in the rotation for decades. Kids don’t give a shit, they’ll watch anything which is why it’s doubly smart on Ferrell’s part to pick a children’s Christmas film. That holiday is so bereft of quality entertainment, that a good enough one is basically a classic. Luckily for Ferrell, his is more than just good, it’s fantastic. It might’ve finally replaced A Christmas Story as the go-to 24 hour tradition and it’s not hard to see why. Every second Ferrell is on screen, the film radiates charm. It’s hard to not be won over by Buddy’s childlike enthusiasm and wonder. He’s a big stupid idiot that can’t stop fucking up but somehow Ferrell keeps him from tipping over into being obnoxious. He’s like a giant Labrador, he’s going to wreck everything in your house almost instantly but he’s having so much fun and is completely oblivious to everything, you can’t help but love him.
03. The Grinch (Boris Karloff/Jim Carrey/Benedict Cumberbatch) | How the Grinch Stole Christmas/The Grinch (1966/2000/2018)
Before he has a radical change of heart in the third act, The Grinch is the greatest Christmas hero for a lot of holiday hating people. Scrooge is a great curmudgeon as well but he hates everything, not just Christmas. The Grinch has a singular goal: destroy Christmas for those annoying ass Whos. He hates their horrible songs and their gaudy ornaments and their obsession with gifts. He hates their ugly sweaters and their bullshit joy. He hates everything about the holiday and decides to end that shit. Now, he doesn’t really hate Christmas, he’s just a bitter What who’s turned into a monster after years of ridicule by some nasty Whos but for those of us that are tired of the holiday and everything associated with it, the why isn’t important. We root for him because he’s our champion. He’s the closest any of us have gotten to tearing it all down and every time I hear Wonderful Christmastime, I’m mad he didn’t.
02. Ebenezer Scrooge (various) | A Christmas Carol (1901- )
Charles Dickens has a handful of literary classics that have stood the test of time but none are as popular as A Christmas Carol. Few novels have reached that level of wordwide notoriety. Everyone knows this story, whether you’ve read it or not. You’ve absorbed it through pop culture osmosis, most likely due to the fact that there’s about a billion and a half adaptations of the story. There’s been at least two movies based on this story released per decade since 1910. It’s become more than a Christmas staple, it’s a cinematic tradition. Moviegoers always bemoan Hollywood’s lack of originality and the fact that they’ve ran out of ideas but no one ever complains about the umpteenth irritation of Scrooge.
We all know the story inside and out but we love seeing what each new actor brings to it. Sim is the one all others are judged against but he’s not the only one to give a great performance. Finney, Scott and Caine are usually the other three most cite as being the best of the bunch (outside of Sim) and while they’re all great, I gotta give it to Bill Murray in Scrooged. He’s so good at playing a despicable piece of shit, that his redemption arc feels that much more rewarding than previous versions. I also kinda dug the Jim Carrey one and liked that he also portrayed the three spirits. I thought that was an interesting addition. No matter which version is your favorite, odds are, at least three of them are apart of your annual Christmas tradition.
01. Santa Claus (various)
The obvious choice but could it be anything else? The jolly ol’ fat man is more recognizable than Jesus and is as big a pop culture icon as Mickey Mouse. Almost everyone in the world knows who he is, with at least half the population seeing at minimum, 150 movies starring him or about him. If you combined all the various adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and Scrooge, whatever number you’d get would still be less than the amount of Santa Claus portrayals and those three characters have been adapted to death. Since he’s in the public domain, anyone can make a film about him, which leads to some interesting projects. He’s been the star of action movies, comedies, a metric shit ton of animated movies and he’s even fought Martians and won. Sometimes he’s portrayed as an eccentric old man, other times as a brilliant toy maker/inventor or a caring philanthropist and he’s even been a wizard or magician. It doesn’t matter how he’s portrayed or even the quality of the films he’s in because nothing can tarnish Santa Claus. He will be around and thriving on screens both big and small long after we’ve all died due to global thermal nuclear war. He’s the undisputed king of Christmas, long shall he reign.